Enviro-Ethics Lecture Pleases

On Monday Jan. 31, Andrew Terjesen lectured on magnanimity; it was a lecture proposing that human beings should take care of the environment, not because they have any obligation to or because it benefits humans to take care of it, but because they can take care of the environment and show their greatness by choosing to do so.

Terjesen was one of three philosophy candidates who spoke in the past two weeks; all are vying for an open teaching position in the philosophy department.

Terjesen’s lecture, “A Call for Magnanimity Towards the Environment,” focused on a re-evaluation of the concept of magnanimity and how it can be applied to environmental ethics; he specifically argued that care for the environment needed to be less focused on the importance of humans and benefits that can be derived from caring for the environment.

The lecture began with an introduction to debates on climate change and the uncertainty that surrounds that it. Terjesen said, “We don’t know what is going to happen…so what is our responsibility in these cases?”

He compared the problems with the relationship between interests advocating for environmental legislation and those against, such as Greenpeace versus big business, to the relationship between the environment and human beings.

In both of these cases there is one party that has much greater power to affect change; in these examples, big businesses (with more money and governmental access) and human beings.

The proposed solution in both of these cases was magnanimity. The groups who have power should recognize that they have “superiority, but [they shouldn’t] exploit it.”

Magnanimity is “about the kind of person who recognizes the position we hold could have been held by someone else” and that we personally did not accomplish the position of power that we are in.

Terjesen said that humans need to have a “sense of gratitude that you are where you are” in relation to the rest of the environment and that “morally speaking, you are a better person for not taking advantage” of that position of power.

He pointed to problems of motivating people to care about environmental issues if individuals do not see or feel effects of their actions and an individual feels that their “contribution…is not going to do anything anyway.”

In response to this and in an effort to get people to care about the environment, nature is often personified to invest interest in caring for it.

Terjesen said this anthropomorphism is only effective so far because it does not address problems with environmental systems and parts of the environment that do not feel pain or that we cannot directly see (such as soil systems or air problems).

This is why Terjesen argued for magnanimity. It is a concept that does not require us to anthropomorphize nature or to feel even connected to nature.

One simply has to realize that “the environment includes people… and you happen to be lucky enough to be the sentient one.”

The lecture was well attended by a mix of both students and faculty, all of whom had the opportunity to rate Terjesen and how well he might fit as a professor at St. Mary’s.

Junior Brendan Loughran said, “I liked that he appealed to classic examples…but also appealed to contemporary philosophers as well.”

Sybol Anderson, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, she could not speak on the lecture because she is on the search committee for a new philosophy professor, though she did describe the search and hiring process.

She said the Philosophy department was searching for how the candidates interacted with students, their fit in the department, and “competence in environmental philosophy, feminist philosophy, or both.”

This lecture was the first of three candidates who spoke in the past two weeks. Barrett Emerick presented “What are Apologies and Why do They Matter?” and Selin Gursozlu spoke on “Integrity and Moral Challenge.”

Anderson said that the new Assistant Professor of Philosophy should be decided by the end of February.

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